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Gov. Bill Lee signs two criminal justice reform bills

bill lee signing a bill
Posted at 2:41 PM, May 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-24 19:42:51-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Gov. Bill Lee signed two criminal justice reform bills into law on Monday afternoon.

Lee said he thinks the bills will result in fewer people incarcerated and a lower crime rate in Tennessee.

The first is the Re-entry Success Act which creates a supervision program for people getting out of prison and reduces liability for employers who are hiring people with a criminal record. The second bill will create alternatives for incarceration as long as the person is convicted of a low-level or non-violent offense.

A ceremony was held at the Tennessee State Museum to celebrate the bills becoming laws. The governor, as well as many state lawmakers who helped champion the bill through the legislature, spoke during the ceremony. Speeches were also made by Tennessee Commissioner of Correction Tony Parker and Chattanooga Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod, who was once incarcerated.

Others who were formerly incarcerated also drove to Music City to show support.

Deandre Brown spent two years in prison after he says he decided he wanted to be a career criminal earlier in life.

"My state charge was identity theft," said Brown. "My federal charge was bank fraud, I was a white collar criminal. I figured I was kind of smart and was seeing if I could game the system and it ended up costing two years of my life."

Brown said he served as part of the task force that created the legislation.

"When you consider the fact that a felony conviction hinders you in so many ways, it removes the ability to get adequate housing, education, good paying jobs. These laws not only effect a person directly, but it also helps the broader community see the reason we need to treat people who have felony convictions differently," he said.

Brown said the next problem the state should address is sentence length.

The governor based his platform on criminal justice reform and says he'll continue to pass laws like this in the future.

However, critics of his reform bills said the measures don't go far enough, including state democrats.

One former inmate said the bills don't address big problems like affordable housing for people re-entering society.

Watch the entire ceremony below: